Lampre's Francesco Gavazzi showed tremendous tactical nous to lead home an 11-man breakaway to claim Stage 18 of the Vuelta a Espana, with Spaniard Juan Jose Cobo maintaining his slim hold on the red jersey.
Gavazzi and Belgium's Kristof Vandewalle of Quickstep made their move inside the final two kilometres of the hilly 174.6km route from Solares to Noja, having initially escaped the peloton with a number of other riders.
As the pair fought for the victory, it was Gavazzi who had the edge, the Italian easily outsprinting Vandewalle to cross the line in first place.
Cobo remains the man in possession of the coveted red jersey, with Team Sky's Chris Froome still 13 seconds back in the battle for the general classification, after both riders finished in the peloton - seven minutes and 42 seconds after Gavazzi.
1. Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Lampre - ISD - 4:24:42
2. Kristof Vandewalle (Bel) Quickstep Cycling Team - same time
3. Alexandre Geniez (Fra) Skil - Shimano - 0:00:10
4. Nico Sijmens (Bel) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne - same time
5. Matteo Montaguti (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale - same time
6. Volodymir Gustov (Ukr) Saxo Bank Sungard - same time
7. Juan José Oroz Ugalde (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi - same time
8. Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team - same time
9. Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Pro Team Astana - same time
10. Francis De Greef (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto - 0:00:15
1. Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC - 74:04:05
2. Chris Froome (GBR) Team Sky - 0:00:13
3. Bradley Wiggins (GBR) - Team Sky - 0:01:41
4. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team - 0:02:05
5. Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC- 0:03:48
6. Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek - 0:04:13
7. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale - 0:04:31
8. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto - 0:04:45
9. Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team - 0:05:20
10. Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi - 0:05:33
Cadel Evans of the BMC Racing Team shouldered the bulk of the workload Thursday at the Tour de France, leading the pursuit of stage winner Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) up the final climb of the Galibier.
Evans Now Fourth
Evans pulled back nearly 45 seconds from Schleck in the final kilometer, but it was not enough to prevent him from losing his grip on second place overall. Andy Schleck and brother Frank Schleck (second on the stage), both moved ahead of Evans, who finished third on the day. Thomas Voeckler (Team Europcar) clings to the overall lead by 15 seconds and is 1:12 ahead of Evans, who is now fourth. "When Voeckler and his team stopped riding and he has the yellow (jersey), it was a bit bizarre and strange," Evans said. "They've been riding a lot all week, but he had a teammate in the end, too. They sort of looked at me to do the work, but I was alone, too. I'm never happy to lose places on GC."
Help From Teammates
After Andy Schleck put in an attack midway up the Col d'Izoard – with still more than 60 km to go – Evans used Brent Bookwalter to help with the pacemaking. The American was part of an early 19-man breakaway. "I gave everything I had today to help once Cadel's group got up to me," Bookwalter said. "I was already on empty at that point, but I did what I could." Later, BMC Racing Team's Amaël Moinard and Steve Morabito helped pace Evans to the final climb of the 200.5 km stage.
'We're Still In Contention'
BMC Racing Team President/General Manager Jim Ochowicz said it was impressive to watch Evans lead the chase and close the gap to Andy Schleck. "It could have been a lot worse if he (Evans) had not taken the initiative," Ochowicz said. "(Alberto) Contador was dropped, (Samuel) Sanchez was dropped. You don't get dropped if you're not using most everything that you've got. This race isn't over and we're still in contention and tomorrow is another day. It's going to be hard tomorrow. But we're going to be as competitive as we have been every day thus far in the race."
Australian Cadel Evans was puzzled and annoyed by the time lost by most Tour de France favorites during the 18th stage on Thursday.
"It seems like the Schleck brothers had the best climbing team, in combination. They put it all on the line and they really had to do a long-range attack," the 2009 world champion said after finishing third in the stage behind Andy and Frank Schleck.
Andy Schleck attacked 60 kilometers from the line and no team really took control of the chase, thinking he would tire or hoping others would do the work.
"Just on a numbers basis, with 20 to 30 kph block headwind up a valley, we are in a group of 40 with one to nine guys riding at the front, and they are in a group of four riding at the front. They really rode fast at the front, I don't quite understand how they made so much time," said Evans.
Andy Schleck, helped by team mate Maxime Monfort and two early escapees, doubled his lead between the top of the Izoard pass and the foot of the Galibier on flat terrain which should have favored the chasers.
"Euskaltel had the most riders there at one point with four guys and they were riding with three or others, but still losing time," Evans said. "I had to put it on the line, but it was my Tour to win and mine to lose.
"It's also a bit bizarre when (Tour leader Thomas) Voeckler's team stops riding and he has the yellow jersey. They've ridden a lot all week, but he still had a team mate in the end and just sort of looked at me to do the work," he said.
The Australian, Tour runner-up in 2007 and 2008, took the chase into his own hands in the finale, climbing most of the last ascent on his own with the other favorites on his heels.
He probably was the fastest man on the Galibier, a performance that earned him praise from three-times Tour champion Alberto Contador, whom he dropped in the final kilometer.
"He did an incredible job and really showed what he's made of," the Spaniard said.